Strictly from Palookaville, No Holds Barred is a cartoonish, Rocky-inspired fantasy about courage and honor and frothing manliness. It has everything WrestleManiacs crave: high-flown acting, Mickey Spillane dialogue, crummy sets and grapplers with names like Rip, Zeus and Lugwrench Perkins.
This $10 million "action/adventure film," now showing at theaters across the country, features Hulk Hogan in his first starring role. In an obvious case of art imitating art, Hogan plays a beloved wrestling champ named Rip, whose greatness can barely be contained on the big screen. Flexing and fussing, snorting and scratching, Rip makes rude work of all who trespass within the swing of his bruising forearms. But he's a tender titan, as capable of chivalry as he is of two-fisted fury. Outside the ring he's soft-spoken, sober, polite—so subdued, he's practically human. He prefers charity work to self-promotion! He orders in French at a posh restaurant!! He even brushes his teeth before a romantic interlude!!!
Hogan has put a lot of work into preparing for the role. Unlike Sylvester Stallone, he has learned to speak English as if it were a familiar language. Even difficult words such as "couch" and "lobby" come out intact.
Rip's most formidable foe is Tom Brell (Kurt Fuller), a sleazy TV mogul. Brell lures Rip to his office, lets him sit in his Louis XIV chair and offers him a blank check to switch networks. But Rip can't be bribed. "My word is my bond," he says. When Brell tries to bully him, Rip deposits the check down Brell's throat and storms out.
Incensed, Brell goes on a Rip-roaring tear. He searches for a rival for Rip in the No Count Bar, a grimy rasslin' hangout where boots bounce off belligerent heads, and snarling faces, scarred and toothless, lurch at the camera in drooling close-ups. The patrons of this joint are not the kind you would find on the back of your symphony program: They seem to have stepped off the down elevator of evolution.
Brell concocts a fight-till-you-drop series called Battle of the Tough Guys—no ring, no ref, no rules. He left out no brains and no taste. The winner is Zeus (Tiny Lister), a bullet-headed baddie who crashes into a movie frame like Sasquatch, half-man, half-myth. Zeus could win a staring contest with the heads on Mount Rushmore. He looks bad (he has snake-evil eyes, caterpillar brows and a Z shaved on his head). He talks bad (his mumble-grumble consists mostly of "aaarrrgghhh" and "grrrraaaaaa"). He even fights bad (he has the unsportsmanlike habit of tearing the ears off opponents and hopping on their heads as if stomping on grapes).
Not content with cracking the coconuts of mere mortals, Zeus wants to rip the Ripper. But Rip will have none of him. Brell then attempts to kidnap Rip's girlfriend (Joan Severance), tenderizes Rip's meaty little brother (Mark Pellegrino) and has Zeus call our hero a "kaaaaggghhh" and even an "urrruuuggggghhh." Rip flutters his cheeks to indicate emotion. He may be wondering if he has been insulted. He speaks French but not Aaargh.
Rip, however, is insulted enough to agree to an anything-goes showdown, which sets up a squirrelly rip-off of the Rocky saga. Zeus shows up in the kind of Darth Vaderish outfit you would expect Angie Dickinson to wear to the Oscars. Soon bodies are being slammed onto the mat, through the ropes and into the ring posts, and No Holds Barred becomes a wearing and predictable workout.
No Holds Barred was produced by Michael Rachmil, whose credits include Roxanne, Punchline and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Visually, No Holds Barred is heavy on smoke, sparks and shots of big-veined, sun-cured torsos. Aurally, it's louder than Zeus's wardrobe. All of this might be O.K. if it were not for the jittery camera work, which swerves all over the action. It's as though director Thomas Wright doesn't know where to put the camera. My suggestion is put it away.
The refined Rip (Hogan), riding high in "No Holds Barred," is as predictable as Rocky.